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National Commemoration of the Days of Remembrance

National Commemoration of the Days of Remembrance

Published on April 17, 2015
Speech by Ambassador of France to the United States, Gérard Araud

United States Capitol, Washington DC, April 16, 2015

Members of Congress,


Survivors of the Holocaust,

distinguished guests.

It is a great honor for me to speak today at the Capitol on the occasion of the national day of Remembrance of the Holocaust. I would like to personally thank the Museum Director, Mrs. Sara Bloomfield, for having invited me to give this address.

I am moved to speak to you today as the Ambassador of France to the United States, not only because it is an honor to be invited to deliver such a speech in the Capitol, but because having twice served my country in Israel, it means a lot to me personally.
We commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the extermination camps. It was not yet a full liberation, as most of the survivors had been taken by the Nazis on a long march over the Silesian plains, where they suffered their last agonies.
That was when the common man discovered the methodical, planned, scientific extermination of the Jews.

It was perpetrated on European soil by the regime of one of our continent’s most civilized nations, and it found accomplices everywhere, including in France, under the so-called Vichy government.

The atrocity and scale of this crime made it unique. Six million women and men were exterminated because they were Jewish, and how many others were enslaved or put to death because they were gypsies, homosexuals, Slavs, communists, resistants, priests, workers, or handicapped.

The method and the nature of this crime also made it unique.

Evidence had to be destroyed. The horror had to be disguised so that it could be carried out completely, so that it would be final. All the Jews had to die; nothing was to remain of their presence. Jews had to be excluded from human society to make them disappear from the past, present and future, and to make mourning them impossible.

But today, we join with the survivors and the witnesses in remembering.

Remembering is a duty, a duty we owe to the dead but also to our children.
It is why France, like other European countries, the United States and many countries all over the world have pledged never to forget. We must remain true to this shared commitment. It is our responsibility not only to remember, but to transmit to younger generations the knowledge, the memory, and the need to remain vigilant.

This is all the more necessary in that the world has unfortunately not been spared further genocides. Holocaust Remembrance Day is also a day to remember all of the 20th century’s genocides.

It is also a moment to face today what would seem to be inconceivable after the Holocaust: anti-Semitism.

Three months ago in Paris, four people died in a kosher supermarket for the same reason Jewish families were brought to the Vel d’Hiv in 1942; the same reason Jewish worshipers were killed in rue Copernic or rue des Rosiers in the early ’80s; the same reason that the young Ilan Halimi was tortured to death in 2006, and that the children and Rabbi of the Ozar Hatorah school were killed in 2012: because they were Jews. They died not because of what they did but because of who they were.

As the killings in Brussels in May 2014 or in Copenhagen last February have shown, and as numerous anti-Semitic acts have unfortunately shown in Europe and in many parts of the world, anti-Semitism is a global phenomenon. Anti-Semitism is on the rise.

This scourge is even leading some French Jews to question whether or not they should stay in their homeland. That my French Jewish compatriots could be forced to leave my country, their country, our country because they are afraid - it would be a moral failure if France were unable to protect its Jewish citizens.

As Prime Minister Manuel Valls told the French National Assembly after the Paris attacks in January, France without the Jews of France wouldn’t be France. We cannot accept it. We are waging a war for the soul of France.

The soul of France, the country of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, which was the very first country in Europe to emancipate its Jewish citizens in 1791;

The soul of France, where Alfred Dreyfus was exonerated and reinstated as a major in the French Army in 1906, and later served during WWI; the soul of France, where Léon Blum became the first Jewish prime minister in Europe in 1936.
The soul of France which was with the UK the first country to declare war to Nazi Germany.

The Soul of France which is the country of the second Jewish community in the world.
But the soul of France also, which has come to terms with what happened under the foreign occupation. The only France, the France we should defend today.

So, ladies and gentlemen,

We are living a period when unfortunately the best way to draw the lessons of the Holocaust is to fight a new anti-Semitism.

The French authorities have been working for a decade with the Jewish organizations to combat it. We have been providing security to synagogues and schools.

After the recent attacks, we are stepping up our efforts. We have increased the protection of synagogues, schools, and Jewish institutions, by the French army and French police. But let’s be frank. Can we imagine our Jewish citizens living under that constant protection? It is unbearable. It is not a long term solution.

So we need to continue our efforts to foster Holocaust awareness in order to combat anti-Semitic prejudices. This is why education is a top priority. The Holocaust is already taught in every French school, from elementary school to high school. Trips to memorial sites are organized in many schools across the country.

The Shoah memorial, inaugurated In Paris 10 years ago and recently expanded, has gathered more than 40 million documents, and receives 200,000 visitors every year. It is now the largest center in Europe for research, information and awareness-raising about the history of the World War II genocide.

France is also very actively partnering with major institutions worldwide to foster Holocaust remembrance and make sure that historians and researchers have access to archives documenting the WWII period and the years that led to it. I commend the fantastic cooperation that has been for years between the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the French national archives and the archives of the French Foreign Ministry.

We also need to act together against anti-Semitic speech. Let us never forget that the groundwork for the Holocaust was laid with words and speeches. France has already instituted heavy legal penalties against anti-Semitic speech. But we need to do more about hate speech on the Internet because the Internet is now the main source of inspiration for Holocaust deniers and future terrorists.

That is why France is supporting the call of the French Jewish organizations so that the Internet platforms that manage social networks join our fight.

The major internet providers have a social responsibility. They should act against anti-Semitism and hate speech the same way they do against child pornography.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As we saw in French people’s response on January 11 after the terrorists attacks, when millions came out to demonstrate, our nation will stand tall in the face of those who would have us bend. But you know it: it is not France versus her enemies; it is a global fight, it is your fight, it is our fight. They kill the journalists, they kill the Jews. We know what follows.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Yes we know it because we are remembering the crimes against humanity, we are remembering the Holocaust.

The lesson of the Righteous among the Nations is that the human being, even alone, is not powerless, not without responsibility; the lesson is that there is always a path besides running with the pack or staying indifferent.

The French 2014 Nobel prize laureate for literature, Patrick Modiano, wrote in one of his finest books, which he dedicated to Dora Bruder, a girl who had disappeared into the darkness of the camps: “It takes time, a very long time, for what has been erased to come to light.”

It is this light that you give back to us, you the survivors and witnesses and all those who share this duty.

It is this light that we must all carry together, against the darkness which is still looming and still threatening our values and our dignity.

Thank you very much./.

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